A Quick Guide to Organic Cotton
24 May

Know Your Product: A Quick Guide to Organic Cotton

Cotton.

You sleep on it at night, you dry yourself with it after a shower, and you’re probably even wearing it right now.

Despite being so common and so useful (it represents nearly half the fibre used in the textile industry), cotton has a dark side. The story of the way cotton is grown, harvested and produced has some nasty truths that impact our planet and its people.

Cotton is sometimes referred to as White Gold because of how lucrative it is in developing nations, like Uzbekistan. But what are the actual facts behind these claims and how can we make sure the cotton we wear and use has cared for the earth, waterways and the people who helped make our garments?

The sad truth about cotton

The planet

Water

Cotton is the thirstiest crop in the world. It requires a shocking 2,700 litres of water to produce a single t-shirt! To put that outrageous figure into perspective, that’s enough water for one person to drink for 900 days.

Pesticides

The production process for conventional cotton uses a massive 16% of the world’s insecticides; more than any other crop in the world. Pesticides can infect local waterways, destroying the environment and harming animals. Pests continually build a resistance to the chemicals used, so new pesticides are continuously developed, resulting in greater pesticide use and spiralling costs for farmers.

The people

Pesticide poisoning isn’t limited to the environment. Food and water supplies can be easily contaminated from runoff, and it’s the local communities, sometimes already facing hardship,  that suffer through disease, illness and even birth defects.

In many developing countries, cotton is hand-picked. In countries like Uzbekistan and India, it is usually children who do this backbreaking work, taking them away from pursuing a life-changing education while running the risk of injury and illness.

Want to know more about cotton? Have a look at our “How Ethical is Cotton?” material guide.

The alternative – Organic cotton

But it’s not all bad news! Organic cotton is a good sustainable solution, which is grown without the use of pesticides, from seeds which have not been genetically modified.

Organic farming practices avoid using harmful chemicals while aiming for environmental sustainability and the use of fewer resources. Chemical-free agricultural land even stays fertile much longer than land which is hampered by the constant use of pesticides, so organic cotton farmers generally have a longer cotton commodity lifespan than otherwise.

The benefits are clear; using fewer pesticides means that the health of workers improves dramatically, communities can live in relative health with access to clean water and food supplies, and the land has a longer lifespan because it is not being damaged by chemicals.

On the social front, organisations, such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), have been working to make sure organic textiles also enhance (or at least do not harm) people’s lives.

GOTS covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading and distribution of textiles, ensuring that both environmental and social standards, such as safe and hygienic working conditions, no workplace discrimination and fair pay rates, are respected.

By seeking out organic cotton alternatives to everyday products, you can quickly act ethically and sustainably by encouraging the production of cotton grown without pesticides and reduce harm for the planet and people!

A couple of things to note

We know that consumers are increasingly looking for products that are better for them and for the environment. The search for ‘organic’ products began in the food industry and is now reaching the fashion industry, with more and more brands starting to offer organic options (the most recent is Primark, which launched its first organic denim jeans) to their consumers.

However, organic cotton production is not perfect: because organic cotton yields fewer fibres than GMO cotton, it requires more plants and so more land to produce.

Plus, before the organic fibre is turned into your favourite t-shirt, it requires lots of processing and dying, which are also very chemically intensive. Unless the item garment is GOTS certified, it can be hard to tell if the dyes used in production were organic or not.

Nowadays, using the word ‘Organic’ can be in incredibly persuasive: beware of greenwashing and of fashion brands claiming to do better when they are still not addressing other vital issues.

But don’t get us wrong, organic cotton, if sustainably and ethically produced, is a beautiful alternative to conventional cotton.

As always, if you want to have a better impact on the people and the planet, we recommend buying less and buying better, by checking your favourite brands on the Good on You app and web directory! We’ve also listed a few of our favourite organic brands below:

Where to buy organic cotton

 

Beaumont Organic

Rated: Good

Beaumont Organic is a UK-based slow fashion brand that blends simple style with ethical production practices. Founded by Hannah Beaumont-Laurencia, the brand also has its own charitable foundation which supports people in Fiji. Find the range in sizes XS-L.

See the rating.

Shop Beaumont Organic @ Rêve en Vert.

Shop Beaumont Organic.

Miakoda

Rated: Great
two women wearing Miakoda sustainable yoga clothes

If you’re all about that organic plant-based lifestyle, then you’ll most certainly vibe with Miakoda and its organic, ultra-cosy active and loungewear. Supportive of different shapes and sizes from XS-4XL, these ethical and sustainable pieces include stripped-back colours and designs that are all about comfort. Everything is manufactured in an ethical factory in NYC, and all packing materials are eco-friendly. Neat!

See the rating.

Shop Miakoda.

L’ENVERS

Rated: Good

L’ENVERS’ mission is to design fewer pieces made in a better way. Specialised in knitwear, this Spanish brand believes in mindful, careful and slow consumption, offering timeless editions guided by conscious, sustainable materials, including organic cotton. You can find their knitted collection in sizes XS to XL, or even customise your own piece.

See the rating.

Shop L’ENVERS.

Shop L’ENVERS @ Immaculate Vegan.

Shop L’ENVERS @ thegreenlabels.

Fair Indigo

Rated: Good

Fair Indigo is a US-based ethical brand that creates sustainable clothing not only for the planet, but for the human beings involved in your clothing's journey from the cotton farms to your closet. Instead of racing to the bottom, it is aspiring to the top. Its premium-quality organic clothing collections are available in sizes XS to 2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Fair Indigo.

Pop My Way

Rated: Great

Pop My Way is a GOTS certified brand that features mix and match baby essentials that are designed to "pop" onto the garment. This UK brand's modular and versatile designs take the stress out of getting your little one dressed with mix and match elements you can switch in and out for ease or occasion. Love!

See the rating.

Shop Pop My Way.

KENT

Rated: Great

KENT is a US-based brand that creates timeless organic underwear for women, ensuring a quality fit and feel no matter what. It produces the first verified compostable underwear, made from organic cotton and designed to return to nature in 90 days when composted or planted, feeding the soil and growing new plants (or future pants). Find most pants in sizes XS to 2XL.

See the rating.

Shop KENT.

Nudie Jeans

Rated: Good

Nudie Jeans designs 100% organic cotton denim and is transparent about its production. The brand also offers a free repair service, resells second hand products, and even recycles worn out items! Find the perfect fit with the Virtual Size Guide on the product pages.

See the rating.

Shop Nudie Jeans.

Shop Nudie Jeans @ Farfetch.

Shop Nudie Jeans Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

CARIUMA

Rated: Good
yellow sustainable skate shoes by Cariuma brand

CARIUMA is a sustainable Brazilian sneaker brand that wants you to feel super comfortable while providing effortless style in organic canvas, leather, and suede styles. Find CARIUMA's shoes in US sizes 5-13.

See the rating.

Shop CARIUMA.

Conscious Step

Rated: Great
conscious step ethical and sustainable socks

Offers

kid showing off their colourful eco-friendly socks by Conscious Step

Conscious Step – Kids

Bold looks for little feet. Help your little ones stand for what they care about with colourful kid socks. 20% off first order including kid socks with code MYFIRSTSTEP20. (Ends: 25 OCT)

Checkout code: MYFIRSTSTEP20
Shop now
people sitting outside wearing sustainable genderless sweatshirts by Conscious Step

Conscious Step – Sweatshirts

Meet your new favourite way to get cosy. These genderless sweatshirts made with super soft organic cotton are meant to be worn every day, by everyone. 20% off first order including sweatshirts with code MYFIRSTSTEP20. (Ends: 25 OCT)

Checkout code: MYFIRSTSTEP20
Shop now
people standing on balcony wearing sustainable printed charity socks by Conscious Step

Conscious Step – Socks

Not only is each pair of Conscious Step socks certified organic and fairtrade, every purchase also supports an environmental or humanitarian cause. 20% off first order including socks with code MYFIRSTSTEP20.   (Ends: 25 OCT)

Checkout code: MYFIRSTSTEP20
Shop now

Conscious Step creates premium fair trade, organic, vegan socks and clothes which support great charities. The US brand is committed to lasting social and environmental change and every step it takes in its production process supports farms and factories with fair wages, safe facilities, and sustainable materials. The socks come in S-M sizes, and the clothes in XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Conscious Step.

LANIUS

Rated: Good

“Love Fashion, Think Organic, Be Responsible” are the maxims of LANIUS. The German brand uses eco-friendly materials, like GOTS certified cotton. All LANIUS facilities are SA8000 certified and it is a member of the Fair Wear Foundation. LANIUS' clothes are available in EU sizes 34-44.

See the rating.

Shop LANIUS.

Shop LANIUS @ Curate.

Sorella Organics

Rated: Great

Sorella’s certified organic sleepwear range includes tops, pants, wraps, nighties, as well as maternity wear. The label’s founder Anna McGregor has a background in international human rights work. This is obvious with her use of Fairtrade certified cotton, and it ensures strict social standards are met in production and trading. Best of all, purchasing the clothing won’t make you cry over your bank balance! Find the range in sizes S-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Sorella Organics.

Organic Basics

Rated: Great
people wearing organic basics basics

Organic Basics offers high-quality sustainable fashion basics for men and women in organic materials. It also recently launched its first sustainable denim collection! The Denmark-based brand puts sustainable thinking at the centre of everything—it only chooses fabrics that care for our environment, and only ever partners with factories that care about their impact. Organic Basics clothes are available in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Organic Basics @ Rêve en Vert.

Shop Organic Basics @ thegreenlabels.

Shop Organic Basics.

Bhumi

Rated: Great
A woman in a yoga pose wears a dark grey tank.

Bhumi makes 100% Fairtrade, organic, and vegan basics and bedding. The brand believes in sustainable luxury, paving the way for a new era in the textile industry by choosing fairtrade organic cotton for all of its products. Find the clothes in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Bhumi.

Kowtow

Rated: Great

Kowtow uses organic, fair trade cotton and non-toxic dyes to produce its clothes. It designs elegant, timeless womenswear, and also has a range of ceramics. Find the clothes in sizes XS-L.

See the rating.

Shop Kowtow @ Reve en Vert.

Shop Kowtow.

Vege Threads

Rated: Great

Vege Threads is ECA certified and makes all of its clothing in Australia. Its range is sustainable and eco-friendly, and includes men's and women's basics, as well as women's activewear and swimwear. Find the range in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Vege Threads.

Birdsong

Rated: Good

Birdsong is a boutique label producing gorgeous womenswear. Its clothes are handmade in London by knitters and seamstresses earning above the London living wage. The business is built on a philosophy of fairness and authenticity, promising customers “no sweatshop, no photoshop”. Birdsong's products are inclusively sized from 2XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Birdsong.

tentree

Rated: Good
woman wearing tentree clothes

tentree is a Canadian sustainable lifestyle brand that plants 10 trees for every item purchased. The certified B-Corp brand has already helped to remove tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere and reforested over 5,000 hectares of land (that’s equal to 12,000 football fields). But its commitment to sustainability extends way beyond trees. Using recycled, organic, and circular fabrics, tentree cuts down on huge amounts of waste and water usage with every piece. We love it for its super comfy fabrics and easy wardrobe staples that are typically available from XS to XL.

See the rating.

Shop tentree.

La Queue du Chat (0-10 years)

Rated: Great
kid wearing khaki la queue du chat tshirt

At La Queue du Chat, the entire production line from cotton blossom to weaving to garment-making is GOTS certified in order to guarantee healthy products without chemicals or toxic residues.

See the rating.

Shop La Queue du Chat Pre-Owned @ Retykle.

Shop La Queue du Chat.

Little Emperor (2-8 years)

Rated: Great
girl wearing pink little emperor t-shirt

Little Emperor creates unique, functional, and hard-wearing clothing for children. Its affordable clothing is made from environmentally friendly organic cotton, with every garment designed in Sydney, Australia and made in a Sedex-approved factory ensuring living wages and safe working conditions for workers. From the materials and packaging, right down to the energy supplier and banking, Little Emperor is dedicated to environmentally friendly practice. Named in honour of the adorable Emperor Penguin, Little Emperor is a member of 1% for the Planet, meaning 1% of sales are donated to environmental non-profits, helping protect the penguins’ home.

See the rating.

Shop Little Emperor.

Pico

Rated: Great

Pico designs beautifully soft organic and fair-trade cotton underwear for both men and women. The British brand is fully vegan and all its products are Fairtrade International - Small Producers Organisations certified.

See the rating.

Shop Pico @ Reve en Vert.

Shop Pico.

Learn more about sustainable and ethical materials.

Editor's note

Feature image via Unsplash. This article was updated in May 2019. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use our Directory to search more than 3,000 brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

Ethical brand ratings. There’s an app for that.

Wear the change you want to see. Download our app to discover ethical brands and see how your favourites measure up.